On the way up

Hurricane’s high hopes for the future not dampened by postseason loss

OBSERVER File Photo Chautauqua Hurricane guard Larry Rivers (2) goes up for a layup as Jamestown’s Michael Davenport (32) looks on during a regular season NABL basketball game at Brocton High School.

When you’re at the bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up. There is no better example of that than the Chautauqua Hurricane.

Last year, the Chautauqua Hurricane finished at the bottom of the standings. The year before, the team struggled to retain its own players before being poached by other teams in the league. But this year, the team found itself in the conference championship series, against a team it beat twice in the regular season, the Hurricane’s arch rival, the Jamestown Jackals.

The Hurricane season may not have ended the way its players and fans had hoped. However, that does not take away from the progress the team made in the third season in program history.

“We had tremendous growth throughout the year,” said Chautauqua Hurricane coach Jerome Moss. The head coach since the franchise began, Moss has been with the team through the ups and downs. After last season, Moss and the Hurricane collectively made an effort to keep the mistakes from the past, in the past.

“You learn from your mistakes,” said Moss. “When you finish last place, you don’t wanna do that again. … We brought back guys who wanted to do better, guys who didn’t want that taste of last place in their mouth again. The guys we did bring back put in a lot of work over the summer. This year, they really came together as a team.”

Chautauqua struggled at the beginning of the season, especially out of the gates. The Hurricane lost to Jamestown 100-62 in the season opener on Jan 26. The only place to go from there was up. However, even the biggest Hurricane fans may not have imagined how high up the team would go.

The Hurricane more than doubled its point total from the first game in its second contest, tallying 126 points in a 35-point win over the Buffalo Blue Hawks on Feb 3. However, the team was quickly humbled in a 131-127 loss a week later against the Roc City Ravens on Feb 10.

Back-to-back wins in a weekend series against the Dubois Dream a week later gave the Hurricane confidence heading into the second matchup with the rival Jackals in Jamestown on Feb 23. However, Jamestown once again got the best of the Hurricane with a 119-96 win on the Jackals’ home court.

With Jamestown taking the first two matchups of the year and holding the top spot in the league, Chautauqua needed back-to-back wins before the Jackals visited the Hurricane at home for the first time to have a chance at a share of first place in the league. Chautauqua took care of business, defeating Dubois and the Ohio Bootleggers to set up a March 9 showdown at Brocton High School, in which a Hurricane win would give Chautauqua a share of the conference lead in a tie with the Jackals.

Chautauqua came out of the gates motivated to take care of business on its home court. After a nine-point lead after the first quarter, an evenly-matched second quarter, and an 11-point lead heading to the final frame, Chautauqua seemed fully in control of the rivalry matchup this time around.

The most impressive part of the matchup, however, came when it wasn’t in control anymore.

Jamestown came all the way back to tie the score at 91-91 with five minutes remaining in the game. Eerily similar to a matchup last year in which the last-place Hurricane blew a large lead only to fall to Jamestown, the Hurricane proved that this year was a different year. Chautauqua took the lead right back and moved ahead by three with just seconds remaining on a dunk from Marcus Feagin. A game-tying 3-pointer by Jackals’ leading scorer Michael Davenport fell short and the Hurricane fans stormed the court in the thrilling victory.

“The way that game came down to the last shot, everyone was so into it,” said Moss. “I heard a lot of feedback from community. That game was so great, it really showed that we can play very competitive, very exciting basketball.”

The game was a statement by Chautauqua. Not only can it play well enough to take a double-digit lead over Jamestown, but it can also hold on in the toughest moments to come away with an exciting win. Chautauqua held a share of first place after the win, and it set up a rematch with Jamestown two weeks later on the very same floor.

The Hurricane was ready for that stage once again, and this time, there was no doubt about it. Chautauqua defeated Jamestown, 114-105, to claim sole possession of first place in the conference. Ralph Williams, a newcomer to the Hurricane roster in 2018, was the leading scorer in both wins, with games of over 20 points and over 10 assists in each contest. Adding a dynamic point guard in Williams to a team with returners such as Feagin, Jonny Marsh and Larry Rivers was a key to the Hurricane’s success this year.

“This season we were able to keep the same team all year,” said Moss. “Marcus Feagin and Jonny Marsh both did a great job maturing into great team players, as did Larry Rivers. … With the addition of Ralph (Williams) it all came together.”

Hurricane owner Sixto Rosario agreed that the addition of several players, highlighted by Williams, was a key component to the team’s success this season.

“We picked up some key pieces who joined an already talented roster and brought the team to new heights,” said Rosario. “Fan totals went up every game to see the product on the court and the team went on quite the win streak at home.”

After the regular season concluded, Jamestown and Chautauqua were set to square off for the conference championship and a trip to the national playoff tournament in Texas. The best-of-three series was held in Jamestown, and just like the regular season series between the two rivals, the home team won each time. Jamestown won twice to eliminate Chautauqua.

Still, taking a team from last place a season ago — a team that lost 100-62 in the first game of the year — was quite a step forward for the Hurricane program.

“The year was definitely a success and something to build off of in the future,” said Rosario.

Moss is pleased with the approach the team had this year and impressed with the growth over the season. Now it is all up to the offseason changes to determine the team’s outlook for next season.

In the NABL, many players leave to pursue opportunities in other leagues, with the ultimate goal of playing professionally. That is why Moss has each of his players preparing their passports in case a team overseas comes calling. Moss helps his players by putting together highlight reels of his players to send to interested teams in hopes of getting his players an opportunity to play professionally. However, if possible, Moss hopes to return as many players as he can next year to take the final step towards a conference title.

“Next year, we’ll bring new players in to compliment the guys we have,” said Moss. “Hopefully, we’ll upgrade in a few spots and bring most of the guys back. But you never know.”

One thing that is for sure is that the 2018 season was, without a doubt, the most successful season in Hurricane program history. Now it is up to Moss and the returning players next season to take the final step.

Twitter: @bradencarmen